2 large heads cauliflower, or 4 small ones
5 Tbsp (75 ml) water
½ cup (125 ml) hot milk, plus extra for thinning
4 Tbsp (60 ml) cream
2 Tbsp (30 ml) butter
2½ cups (about 150 g) grated Cheddar
2 tsp (10 ml) Dijon mustard
a pinch or more of freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
a pinch of white pepper, to taste
a squeeze of lemon juice
For the topping:
1 cup (250 ml, fairly loosely packed) grated Cheddar
5 Tbsp (75 ml) grated Parmesan or Grana Padano
sweet paprika or cayenne pepper, for dusting
Heat the oven to 180 ºC, fan on.
First make the sauce. Remove the green leaves from one of the cauliflowers (or two, if you’re using small caulis). Trim off the stalk and cut the cauliflower lengthways into quarters. Now use a sharp knife to cut away the core, and break up the florets.
Heat a large pot over a medium-high flame, add the water, the cauli florets and a pinch of salt. Cover and let them steam for about 15 minutes, or until the stalks are very tender. Check the pan now and again, adding more water if the pan starts to dry out. If you’d like a nutty taste, let the water dry up so the florets take on a little golden colour, but watch them carefully so they don’t scorch.
Drain the cauliflower in a colander for 2 minutes then tip it, piping hot, into a food processor (or return it to the pan if you’re using a stick blender). Add the milk, cream and butter and whizz to a fine, soft purée.
Now, while the mixture is still hot, add the grated Cheddar and process until the cheese has melted into the sauce.
Add the mustard, nutmeg and white pepper and mix well. Now thin the sauce with more hot milk so it’s about the consistency of a thickish white sauce.
Season to taste with salt. Add a spritz or two of lemon juice – just enough to give the sauce a little sparkle. Set aside.
Cut up and steam the remaining cauliflower, as described above, but cook it until it is just tender when pierced with the tip of a sharp knife. (I do this in the microwave, in a big bowl tightly covered with clingfilm – it takes about 7 minutes, on high.) Drain well in a colander for three minutes, then tip the florets into a large buttered oven-proof dish.
Pour over the reserved sauce – just enough generously to coat the florets – and sprinkle with the Cheddar, Parmesan and a dusting of sweet paprika (or cayenne pepper if you fancy that).
Bake in a hot oven for 20-25 minutes, until the cheese is bubbling and golden. Serve immediately with a crisp green salad.
Serves 4 hungry people, or 6 as a side dish.
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